06 Mar Actions are according to intentions
This weekend I will be attending my first retreat – Nature, Spirituality and the Feminine with Ladies of Light. In preparation, a message was sent out from one of the organisers, she asked the participants to think about our intentions for the trip. Whenever the word intention is mentioned I think of the hadith of intention. Intention is such a powerful, conscious act, almost frightening, because I am always aware of the degree of sincerity and truth in my intentions and actions. I remembered I had notes from about this hadith written years ago, and as I pulled the dust covered notebook out, I just had to share a few of the timeless lessons, without going into too much detail.
“Actions are according to intentions, and everyone will get what was intended. Whoever migrates with an intention for Allah and His messenger, the migration will be for the sake of Allah and his Messenger. And whoever migrates for worldly gain or to marry a woman, then his migration will be for the sake of whatever he migrated for.”
Related by Bukhari & Muslim
Allah does not look at our forms or bodies but rather our hearts. Scholar Abu Talib Al Makki said ‘soundness of actions is through soundness of hearts, and the soundness of hearts is the soundness through intentions. Whoever strives for purity will be granted purity. And whoever mixes motives will be granted mixed states’. The state of one’s relationship with Allah is to the extent to which one takes care of the state of the heart with Allah. This relates to how we turn to Allah, our way of manage ourselves with God consciousness and discharging our debt to Allah.
A definition of intention is the goal or purpose behind an action or a set of actions. According to scholars, this statement is understood in two ways: actions are only rewardable by intentions and actions are only acceptable by intentions. These aspects – validity, acceptance, soundness, reward – are not explicitly outlined in the hadith, and yet they are necessary in order for our intentions to be in the purest of forms and for our actions to be pleasing to Allah. It also suggests we need intention in order for our actions to be worthy of reward.
Worldly benefits in our intentions can of course be permissible and even have goodness in it, but it should be a means and not an end in itself. Whilst permissible worldly intentions are acceptable, it falls short of the noble intention, for example marriage. Many people get married to avoid sin but this is not a sunnah intention; a sunnah intention would be sincerity in seeking the pleasure of Allah. Other motives are only truly consequential and transformative when the means are not ends. Everything in the world is material, as opposed to spiritual, and it distracts us from Allah. The root meanings of the word dunya include low and loneliness and so by definition what truly matters is our enemies in life: shaytaan, dunya and nafs, i.e. ego, distractions and desires that distance us from God).
The reality of intention is that it is internal and within the heart, it is between ourselves and Allah only, it has the ability to convert mundane acts into great acts of worship, and there is a continuous need to review and renew intentions as they are susceptible to change.
By refining and edifying our intentions, we are forced to lower and cut off expectations from creation, and instead have high expectations from God, as we know all reward is with and from Him.
A little background…
The narrator of this hadith is ‘Umar ibn Al Khattab (may Allah be pleased with him), and he was the first person to be named ‘Ameer al Mu’mineen’ (Leader of the believers). Before that he was referred to as ‘Khalifahtul RasulAllah’ (successor of the Prophet ﷺ). The Messenger of Allah ﷺ gave ‘Umar his kunya, Abu Hafs which means lion, because he ﷺ saw in him strength, nobility and honour. The Prophet ﷺ also gave ‘Umar another title – Al-Farooq, the distinguisher, the one who distinguishes things with complete clarity. Through ‘Umar, Allah clearly distinguished between truth and falsehood.
Allah told of His pleasure of ‘Umar’s acceptance of Islam to the dwellers of the heavens and He rejoiced and so the Angels rejoiced.
Notes are from an online course with Shaykh Faraz Rabbani and from studying under Mufti Muhammad Ibn Adam Al-Kawthari.